• By Ryan Farley, Extension Agent

4-H/Youth Development

Participate in a Kentucky tradition - the 4-H country ham project

Source: Gregg Rentfrow, extension meat specialist Young people can now register to participate in Kentucky 4-H’s country ham project. Kentucky ranks second in the United States in country ham production, and some people consider country ham one of the standard symbols of the state. Kentucky 4-H began offering the country ham project in the 1990s with less than 40 participants the first year. Now, nearly 800 youth from 65 counties exhibit their hams at the annual contest at the Kentucky State Fair.

The country ham project is open to all Kentucky youth ages 9 to 18. Contestants do not need any prior knowledge of country ham production or a background in agriculture to participate.

In the project, youth cure two hams throughout the year. In January or February, they receive their hams and are responsible for washing, trimming and applying a curing mixture to each ham. Made of salt, sugar and spices, most cure mixes are pre-made by a local ham producer or the county 4-H youth development extension agent. 4-H members complete a second washing and curing application in March or April, and make final preparations for the state fair in August. Each county has a designated aging location for hams.

In addition to the curing process, youth must complete six hours of training in the 4-H livestock certification program to be eligible to submit their ham to the state competition. This training provides 4-Hers with insight about the history of country ham production and the current industry.

During the state fair, judges, who are country ham producers and meat buyers, score hams based on aroma, lean-to-fat ratio and appearance for 40 percent of the 4-Her’s score. Hams are divided into two different categories, smoked and non-smoked hams, and by age groups. In addition, 4-Hers are required to give a three-to-five-minute speech on the project, which accounts for 60 percent of their overall score.

After the contest, youth can keep their hams or give them away.

Over the years, the 4-H country ham project has provided youth with an excellent education about the food industry, especially country ham production. This project gives youth an awareness of where their food comes from and how it is prepared for grocery stores. In addition, 4-Hers gain a historical perspective about food preservation prior to the use of refrigeration.

The deadline for youth interested in participating in the 2019 4-H country ham contest is Dec. 14. An entry fee of $45 per person is required, which includes the purchase of two hams.

To register or for more information, contact the Woodford County Cooperative Extension Service.

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